How to Improve Gut Health: 5 Things You Can Do


Artichokes and baby eggplant at a Farm To Table Dinner Party

Artichokes and baby eggplant at a Farm To Table Dinner Party

Trinette Reed / Stocksy

Your gut houses trillions of bacteria, collectively known as gut microbiota.

Several factors, including your diet, body weight, stress, and medication use, influence your gut bacteria. Good gut health, including a balanced gut environment and healthy gut lining, is essential for overall health as your gut impacts your entire body as well as your mood, sleep quality, and more.

If you have an unhealthy gut, it may lead to digestive issues such as diarrhea and chronic bloating, as well as other symptoms and health conditions. Fortunately, there are several ways to care for and improve your gut health, some of which don’t have to do with your diet.

Here’s everything you need to know about gut health and steps you can take to repair your gut.

How Do You Repair Your Gut Health? 

Your gut contains an array of microorganisms. While some gut microorganisms are known to have anti-inflammatory effects, others can promote inflammation and harm gut health when their numbers get too high.

When your gut becomes imbalanced—known as dysbiosis in the medical field—there’s a  loss of beneficial microorganisms and an overgrowth of microorganisms that have the potential to harm health and create an inflammatory gut environment.

Several factors, some of which are out of your control, contribute to dysbiosis. For example, genetics and certain infections can alter the gut microbiota. However, factors within your control, such as diet and lifestyle, are among the most important contributors to gut dysbiosis.

Dysbiosis can negatively impact overall health and has been associated with a number of medical conditions, from gastrointestinal diseases to certain cancers.

Fortunately, no matter the cause of dysbiosis, there are several ways to improve the health of your gut and encourage a balanced microbial community within your gastrointestinal tract. 

Increase Your Fiber Intake 

A high-fiber diet has been shown to promote the health of beneficial bacteria in the gut and reduce the risk of several gut-related health conditions, such as colorectal cancer and diverticular disease.

Some fibrous foods, like artichokes and beans, are high in special fibers called prebiotics. Bacteria in your large intestine ferment prebiotics and release compounds called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs provide energy for the cells that line your intestinal tract and are also involved in functions essential to gut health, such as mucus production and the regulation of intestinal pH.

Research shows that people who follow high-fiber diets have healthier guts, including increased microbial diversity, which is a sign of good gut health, compared to people who consume low amounts of dietary fiber.

Increasing your intake of high-fiber plant foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans, is an important part of caring for your gut and encouraging a balanced microbial community. 

13 High-Fiber Vegetables To Add to Your Diet

Cut Back on Added Sugar and Ultra-Processed Foods

A diet high in added sugar and ultra-processed foods can harm your gut barrier function and contribute to a pro-inflammatory gut environment. 

For example, research shows that high added sugar and ultra-processed food intake can result in an unfavorable microbiota composition by decreasing the abundance of beneficial bacteria, such as Bacteroidetes species, while increasing the growth of Proteobacteria in the gut, which have pro-inflammatory properties.

Interestingly, the gut microbiota of people who consume high-sugar diets is similar to the microbiota of people with health conditions such as metabolic disorders and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Cutting back on ultra-processed foods and foods and drinks high in added sugar and increasing your intake of nutritious foods is an easy way to heal your gut.

Avoid Unnecessary Medication Use 

Although some medications are necessary, the overuse of certain medications, including antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), can negatively affect your gut. 

Antibiotics harm your digestive health by releasing chemicals that disturb the gut microbiota, which can lead to the overgrowth of opportunistic microorganisms. Chronic antibiotic use has been linked to dysbiosis, so avoiding the unnecessary use of antibiotics is recommended.

PPIs can negatively impact gut health, too, especially with long-term use. PPIs reduce gastric acid secretion, which decreases microbial diversity and induces dysbiosis.

Maintain a Healthy Body Weight

Research indicates that obesity is associated with increased gut permeability, which is a sign of an unhealthy gut.

A healthy gut is lined with a tight barrier that controls what travels across the gut lining and into the bloodstream. When the gut lining becomes permeable, also known as “leaky gut”, it allows material such as undigested food and toxins, to cross over into the bloodstream and other tissues, which contributes to low-grade inflammation.

What’s more, people with obesity are more likely to have gut dysbiosis, though research suggests that dysbiosis can both contribute to obesity and be caused by obesity. People with obesity seem to have less bacterial diversity compared to people considered to be at a healthy weight.

Don’t Smoke or Drink Excessively 

Smoking cigarettes and drinking heavily can harm your health in a number of ways, including altering gut bacteria and contributing to dysbiosis. Smoking elevates intestinal pH, which promotes the growth of pathogenic bacteria while reducing the number of beneficial microorganisms. This may be part of the reason why smoking cigarettes is considered a major risk factor for digestive conditions such as Crohn’s disease and peptic ulcers.

Chronic alcohol use is also associated with negative changes to the gut microbiota. People with alcohol use disorder have different gut microbiota compared to people who don’t drink excessively. Alcohol abuse leads to dysbiosis and well as increased gut permeability, both of which can harm gut health.

For these reasons, cutting back on drinking and quitting smoking should be a priority if you’re trying to heal your gut.

What Foods Improve Gut Health?

Studies show that diets high in certain foods are linked to a healthier gut. Incorporating the following foods into your diet may help improve gut health.

13 Best Probiotic Foods For Your Gut Health

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods, such as kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, are foods that are produced using controlled microbial growth. Fermentation helps preserve foods and improve taste and texture. The fermentation process produces beneficial bacteria, such as lactic acid bacteria (LAB), which are probiotic bacteria that positively impact human health. 

According to study findings, diets rich in fermented foods may help protect against gut dysbiosis, encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria, and even improve symptoms of certain digestive conditions, such as IBS and IBD.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber as well as anti-inflammatory nutrients and phytochemicals, such as vitamin C, flavonols, phenolic acids, and anthocyanins, that can help encourage a healthy gut environment.

Diets high in fruits and vegetables have been shown to increase gut bacteria diversity and the number of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, which are signs of a healthy gut.

Beans and Lentils 

Beans and lentils are high in fiber and provide a type of fiber called resistant starch. 

Resistant starch is fermented by gut bacteria, which leads to the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which promote gut health by fueling the cells that line your intestinal tract, regulating mucus production, and more.

Try adding lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and kidney beans to dishes like salads, grain bowls, and soups.

Nuts and seeds

Adding more nuts and seeds into your diet, like walnuts, flax seeds, and pecans, can help promote gut health in a number of ways. Studies show that diets rich in nuts and seeds may help encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut.

Plus, regularly eating fiber-rich nuts and seeds may help reduce your risk of certain digestive diseases like colon cancer.


Whole grains are a good source of soluble fiber. Oats contain a type of soluble fiber called beta glucan, which is fermented by bacteria in the large intestine. The fermentation process produces beneficial SCFAs, which promote digestive health and encourage a balanced gut. 

Studies show that consuming oats may help stimulate SCFA production and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species in healthy people and in people with digestive conditions like celiac disease.

What Are The Symptoms of An Unhealthy Gut?

If you have an unhealthy gut, you might experience a variety of symptoms, such as:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea and constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Feeling overly full after eating 

In addition to digestive symptoms, if you have an unhealthy gut, it can affect your entire body and lead to symptoms such as migraines, mood changes, and a compromised immune system.

Additionally, because your digestive system is responsible for the digestion and absorption of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, people with gut issues often experience nutrient deficiencies, which can cause symptoms such as fatigue and low mood.

Best and Worst Foods for Bloating

How Could An Unhealthy Gut Affect Your Overall Health?

Having an unhealthy gut can impact health in a variety of ways. Your gut microbiota influences your entire body, including your immune system and brain, so prioritizing gut health is essential for keeping yourself healthy and reducing your risk of several diseases.

Poor gut health can increase your risk of digestive conditions like colon cancer, IBS, and IBD. Plus, dysbiosis and gut inflammation has been linked to an increased risk of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Dysbiosis can impact your immune system’s ability to fight off infections and could negatively impact your metabolism, nutrient absorption, and neurological health.

Although some causes for poor gut health are out of your control, you can work on improving your gut health by making changes to your diet and lifestyle, such as increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables and cutting back on added sugar. 

When To Contact a Healthcare Provider

Most people experience occasional digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating, but if you’re experiencing consistent symptoms, it’s important to make an appointment with a healthcare provider. 

Symptoms like constipation, abdominal pain, and bloating can be a sign of serious health conditions, such as colon cancer and uterine cancer, which is why persistent digestive symptoms should never be ignored. 

Your healthcare provider can perform testing to rule out underlying health conditions and recommend treatments such as dietary modification, supplements like probiotics, or medications if appropriate. 

A Quick Review

Your gut health impacts your entire body, from your brain to your immune system. Fortunately, there are many ways to support gut health, such as following a nutritious, fiber-rich diet and maintaining a healthy body weight.

If you think you may have compromised gut health or are experiencing digestive symptoms like persistent gas and constipation, make an appointment with a trusted healthcare provider. They can rule out underlying health issues and recommend ways to improve your gut health, such as transitioning to a more nutritious diet and cutting back on your alcohol intake.